Animal judging – Livestock

This series of articles will introduce animal judging – what it is, the life skills it helps youth to develop, where it can take youth and why everyone should try it!

MSU livestock judging coach Adam Conover talks about the benefits of livestock judging. | MSU Extension
MSU livestock judging coach Adam Conover talks about the benefits of livestock judging. | MSU Extension

This is the fifth article in a series from Michigan State University Extension discussing how animal judging benefits 4-H members now and in all their future endeavors. Mr. Adam Conover, livestock academic specialist, coordinator and advisor of the Ag Tech Beef Management Program and Ag Tech Swine Management Program in the Department of Animal Science, and coach of the livestock judging team provides insight on the Michigan State University (MSU) livestock judging program.

Mr. Conover began his tenure as coach just over a year ago when he joined the Animal Science faculty at MSU. His livestock and judging experiences are extensive. Mr. Conover grew up in Iowa, raising beef cattle and swine with his family and being an active 4-H member. He judged as a 4-H youth for nine years and one year as an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, where he received his bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Animal Science.

Melissa: Can you briefly describe what livestock judging is?

Mr. Conover: Livestock judging, the animal part of it, is evaluating market or breeding animals to the ideal characteristics of their breed and then ranking the four animals in a class from best to worst. As an evaluator or judge, some of the characteristics exhibitors look at includes structural correctness of the animal, mass and overall balance. In livestock judging contests, beef cattle, swine and sheep are most commonly evaluated, but meat goats have also become part of the standard set of classes at many contests. In addition to ranking the animals in class, young contestants answer questions about the classes they viewed and senior division contests present oral reasons explaining their placings. Looking beyond what happens in the arena, judging also helps to build a unique and valuable skill set for youth or college students that participate in the program. Judging will enhance their selection skills when purchasing animals, but more than that, it helps to build strong character and confidence in life.

Melissa: As a coach, what are the biggest benefits you see for individuals who judge?

Mr. Conover: Networking at the national scale is a one of the first benefits that comes to mind. Individuals on other teams, officials, coaches, sponsors or really anyone who is connected with the contest has the potential to offer a future opportunity. Judging creates another community in the livestock world to look for a job, internship or just advice on how to take the next step in careers or life, and this community can open new doors. In addition, livestock judging certainly enhances general public speaking and communication skills. No matter what life path is pursued, being able to present ideas in a clear, concise manner is a must and judging helps develop this skill. Livestock judging also teaches effective communications skills, as participants must convey a large amount of information in a short period of time and do so confidently. Finally, judging allows youth too practice the decision making process over and over, refining this valuable life skill. There is a finite amount of time to make a placing, there cannot be a tie and choice must be made. This type of situation happens in life outside the area all the time and the livestock arena is a great place to practice making those tough decisions.

Melissa: What has been your favorite part of coaching?

Mr. Conover: Watching students develop over the course of a judging season is the most rewarding part of being a coach. Yes, animal evaluation skills improve, but that is not the most important development. Personal growth, seeing the team members come into their own and be more confident in life; that is what makes me proudest of my team. It has been a personal goal of mine to work with students who are the next generation of agricultural leaders; coaching is the perfect way to do that.

Melissa: What have you learned while being the coach of this team?

Mr. Conover: It is important to be surrounded by faculty and staff who support the team, program and coach. The Department of Animal Science and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources recognize the value in judging teams and all the benefits that students reap from the program.

Melissa: Does the team travel? If so, where?

Mr. Conover: Yes, we travel a great deal to practice and participate in contests. We visit multiple farms in Michigan that generously invite us to practice at their location. For contests, we travel as far west as Denver, Colorado for the National Western Livestock Show and Rodeo in January, as far south as Houston, Texas for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in March, east to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for Keystone International Livestock Exposition in October, and closer to home, Louisville, Kentucky for the North American International Livestock Exposition in November. It’s a lot of miles driving, but it is a time for the team to grow and get to know each other better.

Melissa: Besides content knowledge about livestock, what other skills are developed in judging that will benefit individuals outside of the arena?

Mr. Conover: Personal responsibility and having a comfort level to deal with new and changing situations as they arise. It takes a great deal of time and commitment to be a judging team member and learning how to balance classes, work, friends and life in general takes work. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it.

Melissa: What career possibilities can come from livestock judging?

Mr. Conover: There are very few professional livestock judges, but again, the networking opportunities open up an infinite number of possibilities related to the livestock industry. Sales, such as feed or equipment, or product development are a few careers directly related to livestock. However, the skills gained can be used in any career.

Melissa: What if a 4-H member wants to start judging before attending college, where should they start learning about and practicing judging?

Mr. Conover: Start by looking locally – talk with other youth interested in livestock, ask teen and adult club leaders, and work with the county 4-H program coordinator to find other interested youth. Reach out to the resources available, like MSU Extension, or contact me.

Melissa: Would you recommend 4-H youth try judging before they go to college?

Mr. Conover: Very much so. The longer someone practices judging, the more these skills are used, the more they will learn – those are the things that will take them to the next level in competitive judging and in life. Working hard for something, practicing it all the time, no matter what it is, will take you far.

Melissa: Thank you Mr. Conover for taking the time to share your experiences as the livestock judging coach at MSU.

Next in the series will be an interview with Ms. Alexis Siomka, coach of the meats judging team. Other articles in this series include Animal welfare judging and assessment, horse judging and dairy judging.

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